This week, Swedish experts warned parents not to give children under 6 years rice cakes because they contain arsenic.
This warning comes from the Swedish National Food Agency (Livsmedelsverket) after researchers tested 102 rice products and found rice cakes to contain the highest level of arsenic. As rice cakes are a popular choice for children’s snacks, experts felt parent’s should be warned of the potential risks.
Sweden isn’t the only country monitoring arsenic levels in rice products. According to Consumer Reports, rice cakes supply close to a child’s weekly limit in one serving. And in line with this report, the Food Standards Agency advises that children under 5 years should not consume rice drinks in place of formula or breast milk, or as a dairy substitute. This stems from concerns regarding the volume of milk that children of this age consume, in proportion to their bodyweight.
What is the concern?
Rice absorbs more water when growing (up to ten times more than other grains), leading to a higher uptake of arsenic from both the water and soil. Arsenic is present in both organic (naturally occurring) and inorganic (from pesticides) form. Inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen and it is this form that causes the most concern.
What can we do to reduce the risk?
Rinsing rice well before cooking and then boiling in a large volume of water can reduce the level of arsenic, however, according to Consumer Reports, rice cereal and rice pasta may contain more inorganic arsenic than their original study suggested. The FSA are currently carrying out a survey on infant foods, including exposure to rice products and arsenic. At present, there is no evidence to suggest a risk from baby rice, due to the small volume babies consume. Further advice for parents is expected once the findings of this study are known.